Show Grace

Eight years ago today I was in a boating accident at Lake Meade, NV that led to the death of a friend and coworker, Derrick Diltz. We were at the lake as part of a church staff retreat and Derrick and I were heading out in our Pastor’s boat to meet up with some other staff members that launched from another part of the lake. We were to rendezvous with them and have some much needed fellowship. However, soon after launching one of the infamous Lake Meade wind storms blew in and submerged our boat. After floating near the boat for some time we saw another boat come by and Derrick tried to swim for it to get their attention – that was the last time I saw him alive.

There are some things about that event that I’ve forgotten, but there are some things I never will. What I’ll always remember is how the Diltz family, Derrick included, treated me during this trying time. Neither Derrick nor I were wearing life jackets when the boat submerged but the first thing he did once we were in the water was to swim over and retrieve one for me, only then did he set out to find his own. In that moment of crisis his first thought was of me. The next morning I was rescued from a small island that the boat finally drifted into and was taken to a hospital in Las Vegas. It was there that I found out that Derrick had drowned. From that moment on all I felt was guilt and dread.

I felt guilty because I was the one driving when the boat went under, surely I could’ve done something (should’ve done something!) different to prevent all this. I was dreading the moment that I faced his parents and sister (they were on staff with us and at the retreat too). What could I ever say to them? How could I even face them at all? That night was the worst of my life. I knew I would see his family the next day but had no idea what to say to them, or what they would say to me.

The next day, at one of those tacky Las Vegas buffets, I sat at the table pushing food around my plate when I felt someone come up from behind me. It was Jeff and Bev, Derrick’s parents. Before I could say anything at all Jeff asked, “Are you okay?”

What! Am I okay? You just lost your son and the first thing you do is ask about me?

It’s now very clear why Derrick just naturally got me a life jacket first. He was raised in a family that, as part of their daily lives, makes it a point to think of others before themselves. The love they showed to me from that very first moment is something I’ll never forget and it’s something that I think back to on a very regular basis.

When I got married I remember feeling guilty that I survived and Derrick didn’t. I remember thinking that it was so unfair that the Diltz’s wouldn’t get to see their son and brother take a bride. But then I remember their loving words and realize this isn’t what Derrick, nor they, would want me to do. Every July when Tina Marie and I watch our wedding video and I see Jeff Diltz introducing the wedding party at our reception, I thank God for that family. They not only wanted us to celebrate our day, but helped us do just that.

It’s now eight years later and I’m about to celebrate my graduation from the PhD program at OU. I can’t help but wonder what celebrations the Diltz family has missed out on because of that accident. As feelings of guilt, again, started to creep in I logged in to Facebook and saw a post by Jeff about Firehouse Kidz – a full time children’s ministry that was inspired by Derrick’s love for children’s ministry. It reminds me, again, of that first big hug Bev gave me in Las Vegas and her telling me how happy she is that I’m okay.

I am so thankful for the grace they showed me, especially when everyone would have understood if they reacted differently. I firmly believe that is what has allowed me to not focus on feelings of guilt and regret, but instead to focus on how I can contribute to honoring Derrick in my own ministry. I encourage you to ask God to enable you to show grace to those that you may not want too. I’m confident that if you do, God will use that situation in ways you never imagined. He has, at least, in this one.

Please take a moment to visit www.firehousekidz.com and see some of the awesome work the Diltz family is doing and consider making a donation to their ministry.

Blessings,
Paul

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1 Comment

  1. altarme

     /  May 16, 2012

    I was Derrick’s Youth Pastor in Bushnell, Florida for a couple of years in the late 90’s and know the Diltz family well. It broke my heart too when I heard of Derrick’s death but I am confident that he is rejoicing in heaven and is happy for YOU and his family. We may not always (or ever) truly understand grace, whether from others or from God, but it’s an incomparable gift that we all can cherish. Blessing to you!

    Reply

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